Operation Tidespring Part 10/2
No.903 NAS, somewhere south of the Argentine Fleet, 26th April 1983, 12:31 GMT
The news of the damage to their Carrier did not endear the men of No.903 NAS to the Argentines, but even if it had it would not have changed anything. The British plan had been thrown out of the window with the damage to HMS Ark Royal, but that didn't stop the Strike force from attacking. The main group of 22 Buccaneers with Green Eagle Anti-ship Missiles was hugging the waves, but up on top and intentionally exposed to anyone with a RDF set was the Fighter Escort and five Buccaneers armed with Green Arrows, meant not so much for the outright destruction of the ship-mounted RDFs on the Argentine escorts as for the disruption of their Air defence efforts. The horrible casualties that the very same Squadrons had suffered when they had thrown themselves against the Imperial Japanese Navy during The War had taught them the advantages of this disruption.
Now however at least part of the plan needed to be enacted, and to do so the Buccaneers of No. 905 NAS, being both the bait and armed with Green Arrows instead of Green Eagle needed to draw the Argentine fighters out of the missile envelope of their escorts, however the Argentines refused to take the bait after what had happened to their own strike. So instead they hovered over their Strike Group and awaited developments, with the tanker aircraft from the Carriers periodically re-fuelling the fighters. Little did they know that all the British were really doing was to draw their attention away from the real danger and waiting for a short wireless message on a never used frequency, the text having been selected as a tribute to one of the most popular war films of all time.
“Broadsword calling Dannyboy, everything ready, we need transport.”
The Strike Commander sent an equally short message back.
“Roger that Broadsword. All sins forgiven.”
He switched back to the strike frequency and said:
“All Red units, weapons free.”
The six Buccaneers turned towards the Argentine Fleet and fired their missiles. Each of the missiles had been programmed to go after a specific set of frequencies and type of emission to avoid too many double targets. The missiles were detected and indentified almost immediately after they were launched, their flight profile was unmistakeable even to the most inexperienced of operators. Like their comrades on the Falklands the men behind the scopes had the problem of either loosing all ability to defend themselves against the missiles that were sure to come or risk damage to their sets and their ships, and elected the same solution of switching them off and on again, not knowing that the real reason for these missiles was more to confuse them than to actually do any damage.
To the south-west of the fleet the main strike was coming in. Twenty-two Buccaneers with four Green Eagles each had reached the launch point and were now preparing to fire. Unlike the earlier Green Falcon missile, the Green Eagles had an active RDF seeker head and required neither the activation for the Blue Parrot RDF in the nose of the launching aircraft nor any more input from the Observer, it merely scanned the sea in front of it for targets and then attacked the biggest return that it could detect. The Buccaneers fired them down the bearing of the Argentine Fleet and then turned around, firewalling their engines to get out of the area before anyone noticed they were there. Of the eighty-eight missiles launched, twelve would fail at one point on the way to the target. That still left seventy-six missiles going after a mere sixteen targets, enough to ensure that at least some damage would be done. This was the first time that the Green Eagle was used in anger and no one knew how the sophisticated and devilishly expensive (in the eyes of HM Treasury at least) missile fared in the face of alerted ships with defensive systems and jamming.
Battlearea around the Argentine Carrier Group, 12:35 to 13:00 GMT
The E-2 AEW Aircraft were looking eastward to where the British force was retreating towards their own Carriers, so they did not spot the missiles until they were twenty miles out. Having separated into three groups, the missiles approached the Argentine task force from south-east, south, and thanks to the extended range almost directly west, so there was no way to tell for the Argentines where the launching aircraft were and in any case, the ships had enough to do trying to stay alive. The E-2 lacked a decent look-down Radar like their land-based counterparts, but even so the British Missiles intermittently appeared on the screens. All good that did was to give the Arengines some idea on what was facing them, and when the Argentine Admiral was faced with the simple truth that there were two, if not three or more missiles for each of his vessels, the political conditioning from the Naval Academy broke down for a second.
Like all the Pact Nations Argentina discouraged religion and no open member of the Church got very far within the military, but even so centuries of South American culture were difficult to eradicate, and no one in the bridge did more than hesitate for a second.
“May god have mercy on our and their souls...”
The Green Eagle was a subsonic missile, but it still travelled at .98 mach, and so only minutes after the swarms had been detected first, a flash could be seen on the horizon where the outer ring of escorts was stationed.
“Comrade Admiral, the Almirante Brown reports that La Argentine has blown up after a at least two missile hits!”
'And so it begins....' the Admiral thought.
He instantly ordered the other ships to keep their Radars on, Green Arrows be damned. Before that order could be relayed to anyone, the Almirante Brown herself was hit by a British missile and slowed to a crawl. The missiles of the first wave in the other groups had equal success, of the four ships of the outer escorts, two were destroyed outright, while the remaining ones suffered so much damage that they would sink later. Due to the close proximity of the Malvinas, five of the six Destroyers and Frigates of the inner escort ring were placed to the south of the Carriers and they had managed bring everything from small arms to main guns to bear on the suspected vector of the Missiles.
They unleashed a hellstorm of lead and other assorted munitions, but had no chance of intercepting all of the still sixty-five missiles coming at them. Even so, eight Green Eagles died in the barrage, but no less than nine missiles hit the hapless Argentine vessels and one crashed into the sea after clipping the bows of ARA Rosales even as the American-built frigate was afire from end to end already.
The cloud of missiles had been noticeably thinned, and even as they watched it continued to thin out as another missile succumbed to damage suffered earlier. The four Destroyers and two Aircraft Carriers now had almost a minute's time to do something, which was preciously little, as the remaining ships lacked the modern defensive systems of HMS Devonshire. Still, they fired every chaff rocket they had and the barely turned around aircraft on the decks of the Veintcinco de Mayo and the Independencia were launched without weapons, their crews having the same orders as the helpless and frustrated CAP fighters, fly towards the Malvinas if anything should happen to the ships.
The Destroyers valiantly tried to interpose themselves between the missiles and the Carriers in order to soak up as many of them as they could. It was a brave but useless gesture, as they between them had no hope of downing the remaining forty-seven missiles.
First to go was the outermost and oldest Destroyer of the Argentine Fleet, the ARA Commodoro Py which suffered a hit to the superstructure even as the last on-deck F-4 catapulted off the Veintcinco de Mayo two miles away. The escorts fought and died valiantly, but it was a foregone conclusion. As the Commodoro Py was hit, the Admiral reached into his pocket for a picture of his wife and daughter, and then everything went white.
Observing and cataloguing the death of the Argentine Navy was HMS Duke of Wellington, four miles to the west. In accordance with orders received through NAVCOM the submarine was beginning to penetrate the outer ring of escorts when it was blown away by the Fleet Air Arm. The Captain correctly deduced that the Argentines would be too busy fighting of missiles to hunt for submarines, so he increased speed. Upon reaching the inner core several minutes after the last missile hit (the remainder would litter the ocean floor between here and the Falklands) of the force a peek through the periscope showed clearly that he would not be needed to administer the killing blow to anyone.
The Veintcinco de Mayo was afire from bow to stern, and the Independencia was smoking out of several holes and listing so heavily that the starboard edge of her flight deck was almost touching the water. Even at this distance he could see the Argentine sailors jumping off the sides of the stricken vessels, and as much as he hated leaving fellow sailors to die, he could do nothing, so he continued to watch. Two hours later nothing was left of the Argentine Strike force but a single undamaged Destroyer and two sinking ones, several dozen life rafts and hundreds of men in the water, and the day was not yet over, because farther south two Argentine cruisers, one Destroyer and three Frigates were moving along without having ever been notified by the Argentine High Command that they were effectively on their own, while slightly farther east below the horizon and beyond Radar detection two British ships and their escorts were waiting in what looked like a scene from the distant past....
ARA General Belgrano Battlegroup, sixty miles to the south-east of the Argentine Carrier group, 26th April 1983, 13:15 GMT
If anyone asked the Officers on the bridge of the Cruiser, everything went as well as could be expected, the last message from Command had said that the Carriers were attacking the British Fleet, and nothing had been heard from them since. Confidence that was utterly out of place in the face of what had happened not half an hour ago was everywhere on the Bridge.
Their mission was simple. A smaller, second group of ships had been detected and identified as the main amphibious group, and now the cruisers were tasked with destroying them. Rear Admiral Gonzales felt confident in his ship and in his men, as did the Squadron InFom.
“CIC-Bridge, anything on Radar?”
“Nothing yet, Comrade Rear Admiral.” came the reply, “Only the ships of our own group.”
Gonzales replaced the intercom and turned back towards the bridge windows.
“Signal to group. 'Increase to best speed'”
Gonzales sighed. He knew that there was one significant problem with the Cruisers in the Argentine People's Armada or whatever the fleet was called this week, the Carriers were in the spotlight and always had first dibs on the shiny new toys like the Americans liked to put it, and the Cruiser Squadron had to make do. As a result her Radar was older than most of her crew, and while it was always in working condition it was less powerful than the one in the newest class of Destroyers, let alone the new MIDAS equipped British County-Class vessels.
“Bridge-CIC, we have six contacts at bearing zero-three-zero, thirty miles out, and coming our way.”
Somewhere in the back of Gonzales' mind something suddenly made him feel a pang of dread. He shook it away and instead said: “Our first catch of the day. General Quarters, I'll be right down.”
He sprinted the way to the CIC. By the time he got there his crew was at General Quarters as he noted with satisfaction. Underfunded and today one short they might be, but they were well trained. He still wished that the ARA Revolución
hadn't developed an engineering casualty and stayed behind. With only two ships he had decided against a pincer movement, instead they were going straight in.
What was slightly odd about all this was the complete absence of British Helicopters. Their larger landing ships were part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and if they were sent into combat they usually carried some Naval Helicopters, but they were conspicuously absent. Again, just a nagging feeling in the back of his mind.
For several minutes the Cruisers moved through the sea before the call came.
“Visual contact, dead ahead.”
Any calls for identification of the contacts remained unanswered, and going against established procedure and traning, Gonzales left the CIC and walked up to the bridge, just in time to see two contacts that were most definitely not Landing ships execute a perfect combat turn and show him their broadsides.
“¡Dios mío, Santísima Madre de Dios!”
Facing him like a relic from the last war were two of Britain's Dreadnoughts, turrets trained and ready to fire. Gonzales noted with professional detachment that the British were flying multiple Battleflags as was custom in the Royal Navy Dreadnought force and wondered why they hadn't used Broadswords.
HMSs Thunderchild and Dreadnought, 15432 yards away, five seconds later
The reason why the British hadn't used Cruise missiles was simply that the Argentine cruisers had been spotted relatively late. Unlike the Argentines who had sailed under EMCON, the British had used their RDF sets to follow the air battle, correctly figuring that if the Argies had spotted the Carriers, they would most likely have been on the Satellite pictures or submarine plot anyway, so better have everything ready to get cracking in case some bombers came their way. By the time the Argentines had been discovered to be coming for them, forming line of Battle and meeting them in the same old style was actually less of a hassle than programming the temperamental Broadswords, never mind that a gun engagement appealed to the small Dreadnought community.
Eighteen 16'' Naval Guns now faced the Argentine ships, and since he was well within his powers as commander on the scene and under the current Rules of Engagement, Rear Admiral Travis made a decision. He glanced over to where the ships crest with the Martian Walker in the middle was painted on the bulkhead of the flag bridge and decided that it was the human thing to do. The Naval portion of the conflict was clearly decided, and he was well within reason under the current Rules of Engagement.
“Open Argentine Navy Frequency, Flags.” “Aye aye, Sir.”
ARA General Belgrano
“Attention Argentine Cruiser Force, this is the commanding Officer of the British Dreadnought Thunderchild. You are outnumbered and out gunned. Your Carrier Force has been destroyed by British Naval Aircraft an hour ago, and you are facing two ships of the Lion Class. In the name of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II I hereby offer you the chance to surrender. Any hostile move will be met with deadly force. Attempt to flee and we will employ more of the same. You can communicate your assent by heaving to and turning your gun turrets facing the other way. You have five minutes.”
For several seconds silence reigned on the bridge of the Belgrano. Even if it wasn't true that the Carriers had been destroyed, they were still facing what arguably were two of the most powerful surface warships that had ever been built, and the impression of destructive power displayed by their gun turrets belied the obsolescence of the concept and Gonzales had to remind himself that these ships were all twenty years younger than his own. The InFom reacted first.
“Lies! British Lies and propaganda! They would never destroy our Carriers! We must fight! For the Revolution and for the people!”
To say that Gonzales and by the looks on their faces most of his bridge Officers weren't tempted would be a lie, but all had reasons not to do it. Gonzales had no ties left in Argentina, and if it was merely his own skin, he would do it in an instant. But he also knew that for example his Gunnery Officer had four lovely daughters and no one knew what was going to happen to him if he surrendered, as that would most certainly entail knocking the InFom over the head with a stick. He had no actual command power, but pull with the Party. Most of the enlisted men would do what they were told especially if the InFom was taken out of the loop.
“Time's almost up, Comrade Rear Admiral.” said the commander of the cruiser.
Gonzales closed his eyes for a second and thought of his wife and his son and two daughters.
“Comrades. There is only one thing we can do. Open Fire.”
The barking of the Belgrano's guns was all the answer the British needed. Without hesitation eighteen sixteen inch guns thundered in reply. Both sides had the range, and the two Argentine Cruisers were instantly straddled with shell splashes. The two groups had formed line and now steamed alongside each other, and soon the higher calibre guns got their way when a hit from Dreadnought knocked out the RDF sets on the Belgrano. Thunderchild next scored a hit on the other Argentine Cruiser, the ARA Nueve de Julio that gutted her forwardmost turret and almost lead to a magazine explosions. Ten minutes and two salvoes later another hit by Thunderchild then did penetrate into the magazine with predictable results.
Both the Argentine cruisers has scored several hits in return, but armour that was intended to keep out calibres several times their size along with aircraft bombs and torpedoes shrugged 6'' cruiser fire off with ease, something the Belgrano couldn't do when a shell from Thunderchild devastated her superstructure while a hit from Dreadnought penetrated into her machinery spaces and reduced the Cruiser to less than ten knots of speed and gave it a severe list. It was here that Dreadnought scored again, with no less than four out of nine shells hitting the hapless Argentine Cruiser and reducing everything above the main deck to so much scrap metal. Belgrano came to a slow halt and immediately began to list heavily, with a near miss from Dreadnought then tearing up her side, making the old Cruiser turn turtle and sink within ten minutes.
For all intents and purposes the Argentine Navy had been destroyed as an offensive force.
I hope the failure rates of the missiles are at least somewhat realistic, but please bear in mind this is literally the first deployment for the Sea Eagle.
Up next is the ground invasion!
 Almost exactly like they were in the film.
”My god, Holy mother of God!”
the author wanted a gun engagement and now had to pull a reason out if his behind.